Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > Letters to CR

Ralf Haring on Marvel’s New Universe
posted March 26, 2005

Ralf Haring
Via the Internet

You always find the oddest mix of comics to review. From Tokyo Tribes to the new universe in one jump...

I haven't read the series in a a couple of years, but I fondly remember DP7 as my favorite collaboration by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan. The New Universe had come and gone before I ever even started reading comics, but something about Marvel having the balls to launch an entirely new universe at the height of their popularity always appealed to me.

Of the series I've managed to find and read, DP7 is by far the best. It's the only one that had a consistent creative team throughout and it is the only one that makes the most of the "world outside your window" concept. Gruenwald had a tendency to try and think through what his characters would do realistically and so it comes as no surprise that he was one of the principal architects of the New Universe.

Starbrand under Shooter had a few nifty ideas, but was boring and uneventful. When Byrne took over, I was actually amazed at the sheer amount of vitriol that seemed to drip from every page. Even without knowing the backstory, it was clear that he had a major axe to grind with the previous writer. Justice starts with a good hook - an insane protagonist - and then makes a complete hash of the "world outside your window" concept by showing that he's not really insane and is indeed from an alien alternate fantasy dimension. Once Peter David came on board and jettisoned that the book got back on track. I've got Psi-Force (the only other long-running NU title) lying around somewhere but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. The rest were all cancelled twelve issues in, and in looking at the concepts it seems patently obvious why. Kickers, Inc.?

After the line was cancelled, they dribbled out a few longer one-shot books in what is now called "prestige format". After those dried up, Gruenwald decided to play with the NU toys again. He was probably the only editor left at Marvel who cared to use them anyway. They showed up in an issue of Quasar in which he got knocked outside the marvel universe and had to use the Starbrand to get back. It was a fun little one-off story. Of course, a couple years later the NU was featured again in one of those interminable mid-90s massive crossovers. It was called Starblast and involved a hodge-podge of books like Fantastic Four, Quasar, Namor, and Secret Defenders. If I remember correctly, it was even worse than all the other crossovers in that the parts shipped completely out of order and weren't always labeled on the covers as even being part of the storyline. At the end of that the NU Earth had been moved to the MU and was stuck behind an impenetrable barrier being observed by the Stranger.

The only other further usage I can think of was in Peter David's Spider-Man 2099. I think he featured a mystery character that either would have been or was revealed as the Justice character he wrote for the NU.

I don't regard the New Universe with as much derision as it seems most others do. Pick out the gems and don't sweat the dregs - they'll be mostly forgotten in the future anyway. I've read later interviews with Shooter where he stated that he was given a development budget for a big project for Marvel's 25th anniversary and then had it slashed and slashed again. In the end, he said that he had to make due with writers were already salaried at Marvel such as other editors, assistant editors, or sales managers. He said there was no money for big name artists, and that almost all the artists were newer untried talent. In hindsight that seems to have a surprising amount of truth to it. The writers were folks like Gerry Conway, Shooter himself, Mark Gruenwald, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh, and Roy Thomas. There's clearly a big editorial trend there and the ones that weren't were hardly top-tier writers in the late 80s. There were artists like John Romita Jr., Mark Bagley, Ron Lim, Mark Texeira, Todd McFarlane - not to mention writers like Peter David and Fabian Nicieza - who only became bigger names much later in their careers.

But anyway, you're right that that issue of DP7 wasn't very good, if I am remembering it correctly.